Technology Saving Money And Minimizing Risk In E-Discovery

Wednesday, June 1, 2005 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Mark E. Hawn, President, On-Site E-Discovery. Questions can be directed to him at mhawn@onss.com.

Editor: What has made the biggest impact on how corporate counsel have been handling discovery in recent years?

Hawn: Email and other electronic records have totally transformed the way that companies think about their corporate data and how to store, manage and retrieve it. All public companies can expect lawsuits. They must have a methodology in place so they can have the right information at their finger tips when needed in litigation. Our company has a complete email archival solution that is tied to an online review tool for processing e-discovery to save money and minimize risk to an enterprise when it gets involved in litigation.

Editor: What trends do you see in how in-house counsel and law firms are selecting e-discovery service providers?

Hawn: Companies today are as concerned about the vendor's track record, quality of work and ability to meet deadlines as they are about the price. Dealing with investigative matters that typically represent millions if not billions of dollars and matters that could be bet-the-enterprise situations, their selection process is built around trust and confidence.

They are reluctant to hire a small, unproven company that does not have the bandwidth to process a large amount of data because they do not want to be a guinea pig along a learning curve.

In addition, the unique requirements of many searches often require customization in the e-discovery tools. A vendor relying on an off-the-shelf software package has a very limited ability to handle the search requests and types of documentation required by large, international corporations.

Finally, companies like to deal with vendors who are local. Face-to-face time is still a major factor as it relates to the relationship and gives companies the confidence that the job will get done on time and within budget.

Editor: How can a law department's buying patterns add unnecessarily to e-discovery costs?

Hawn: In a large company, litigation teams around the country often make purchase decisions for litigation support services independently of each other using a myriad of law firms. They get different pricing and different methodologies for processing, storing and retrieving the data. In addition, if they're buying forensics from one company, scanning and coding from one or two other companies and copying from somebody else, they're missing the cost benefits of one-stop-shopping.

Editor: Please give an example of your e-discovery solutions.

Hawn: A major energy company recently sent us 100 gigs of data that they needed to process within a week to meet a court deadline. The job required 50 processors. Only a few legal service providers are capable of doing a project of that magnitude because it requires a multimillion dollar investment to have the technology and staff available.

Often law firms have clients that are not serial litigators, so the law firms do not want to invest in the technology equipment and staff needed for a big case. Instead, the firm typically appoints a litigation support practice manager, who interfaces with the e-discovery vendor.

Editor: How is comparing your company with your competitors like comparing apples and oranges?

Hawn: It's all about delivering a quality product on time. Time is always of the essence, and accuracy is absolutely critical. Although very intelligent, lawyers are only as good as the information available to them. So, my approach has always been to get the needed information to them quicker than the competition can.

Editor: You've enjoyed remarkable success in the litigation support industry for more than 25 years. How did you get your start?

Hawn: Just out of my teens, I was working my way through night school at Georgia State as a shipping manager for a mayonnaise company when I met an entrepreneur who said, "Come work for me, and I'll teach you how to start a business from the ground up so that one day you can run this one or start your own."

We called our little company "Copy Center" and focused originally on copying specification manuals for architecture firms. As we moved into serving the legal community, our business grew. In 1988, I left to start my own company called Atlanta Legal Copies. We provided staff for law firms' running in-house copy centers and a dedicated facility off-site operating 24/7 to handle the large projects so that a firm would not have to over staff and over equip its own copy center.

Our national expansion began when a client said to us, "Hey, you're doing a great job for us in Atlanta. Would you staff our DC office, too?" Over 8 years, we grew from 5 employees to 2500 employees in 26 cities.

Editor: Congratulations on being recognized by INC Magazine as Entrepreneur of the Year in 1993. How did your entrepreneurial spirit lead to On-Site E-Discovery?

Hawn: My award from INC Magazine centered around the growth and expansion of Atlanta Legal Copies. In 1996, we sold the company to Ikon, which was then Alco Standard. I stayed about 18 months. After sitting out a five-year non-compete agreement, I decided to get back into the business in August 2002.

We called our new company DocuForce, which was a facilities management and legal copying business. Within a year, we had an opportunity to buy a public company that was called On-Site Sourcing and take it private. We quickly changed its name to On-Site E-Discovery to promote the company's strength in providing e-discovery solutions.

One gem is the company's software development group that develops e-discovery tools. To provide one-stop-shopping from the front end of capturing the data through the back end of doing the processing, we started a division called Electronic Evidence Labs. The division's forensics engineers mirror lap tops and extract data off of enterprise servers. They create a chain of custody from the time the documents leave the enterprise that identifies who has had access to the documents and who has processed them.

Business is going great. We opened a new LA office a month ago.

Editor: What is the biggest mistake that you see litigators make in handling e-discovery?

Hawn: The biggest mistake that they're making today is in the delegation of document handling and processing and the management of their corporate information. For example, I see them incurring unnecessary costs as they copy the same document over and over again for use in different cases. These could be avoided by use of a central repository.

Editor: How can an expert help ease the cost of e-discovery?

Hawn: First, you cut down the duplication. All companies back up their email and other e-documents. Typically, back ups are made daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly. That's a lot of copies of the same document! Partnering with the e-discovery vendor gives you an expert in the field to help identify ways to eliminate the duplication, which in turn reduces the lawyer time required to review the documents because there will be less documents to review.

Second, the expert can help the litigators to define the fields for searching the text of the documents. By accurately framing the name, date, word or other parameter for the search, the important documents can be culled quickly from the irrelevant information.

Editor: The competition for law firms to secure corporate business is increasing. Do you have any tips on how a law firm can gain a competitive edge?

Hawn: Absolutely. I've partnered with law firms in the past that don't have an expertise in the technology of e-discovery. They've told me that they have a client with a big e-discovery project and asked me to partner with them on a joint sale to present to the client. The whole focus is on how I can help the law firm to save the client money and minimize the client's risk in this litigation. I help the team to get to an end result as quickly as possible by identifying the relevant documents that the client needs to understand its exposure, if any, in a particular matter.

Based on my experiences, my advice to the outside law firms is that if you're marketing to a corporation, not only are you marketing your expertise - that is, your intelligence, the depth of your firm's experience - but also how you're going to minimize the client's costs in the area of document production and document review. By teaming with us, you can also focus on the technology and methodology you're using to reduce the client's data set to the relevant information as quickly as possible so that the lawyers are looking only at the documents that a lawyer should be looking at. That is, the lawyer's intelligence is being strategically applied as opposed to reviewing information that is not important. As a result, document review time is reduced considerably.

Editor: What industry trends do you anticipate as you look over the horizon?

Hawn: The world is changing, and it's an exciting place to be. The one thing that we definitely can count on is that there is more change to come. Once things start to move in technology, the rate of acceleration moves rapidly as people start thinking outside the box about how they can address the issues another way to make things faster and cheaper. I'm very excited about the new products and services we have coming out as we continue to streamline the process to take the inefficiencies out of the e-discovery process. I encourage your readers to visit our website at www.onss.com to keep up-to-date on our leading edge e-discovery solutions. If any readers would like one of our consultants to contact them, they can contact me at mhawn@onss.com, and I would be happy to put them in touch with an On-Site E-Discovery consultant in their area.